Thieves can’t seem to keep their hands off of heavy-metal, decorative objects in Uptown Butte that were meant for the community.
Three years ago, they lifted five of eight ornate gargoyles that had been mounted on park benches outside the Uptown parking garage.
This time, they made off with half of a $300 tree grate recently installed around a tree on the sidewalk just west of the Butte-Silver Bow Library.
They are among 12 tree grates the Friends of the Urban Forest Board purchased this year, most with money from a county grant, and placed to promote healthy trees, make sidewalks safer and, well — just make Butte a nicer place.
The grates were designed and made by Hawe Steel Design in Butte. All feature mine headframes, each hole was measured to fit, and the one near the library was installed a few weeks ago.
Now, half of it is missing.
“We’re all heartsick,” said Forest Board member Linda Palagi. “We work really hard for everything we do because we don’t get much funding.”
The grates help trees because they allow sunlight, water and air to pass through to ensure access to nutrients. They also guard soil and rooting systems.
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“There was a lot of tree morbidity with drought and our funding dried up with poor business because of COVID,” Palagi said. “Then we get what feels like another kick when you’re down.
“Why can’t we work together? We try to make the streets more attractive, more shade, less noise, absorbing pollution, and we need everyone working together,” Palagi said.
The Forest Board used a $3,000 grant from the Council of Commissioners to have 10 of the grates made and it got two more via donations from local banks and others, Palagi said. The county grant was from a property tax mill levy dedicated to economic development.
The county created the Urban Forest Board through an ordinance more than 30 years ago. Its mission is “providing a healthy, safe and aesthetically pleasing community forest for its residents and visitors.”
“This raises the standard of living, educates the public and provides volunteer opportunities by maintaining, managing and preserving Butte-Silver Bow trees,” it says.
Police have been notified about the theft, Palagi said, but for now, who took it and why they took it is unknown.
“We discussed whether it was maybe on someone’s wall or whether somebody stole it for scrap metal,” she said.
In March 2018, decorative, metal gargoyles were mounted on benches just outside the four-story parking garage after it opened. They were about 4-by-3 inches and purposefully fastened to the seat portion of the benches with a screw and adhesive to discourage people from sleeping or skateboarding on them.
Each cost $160 and was meant to resemble a Gaelic gargoyle, reflecting Butte’s heritage. But within days, five of the eight went missing.
The county publicized the thefts, and eventually someone brought two of them back, Karen Byrnes, Butte-Silver Bow’s director of community development, said Monday. They were inside a Crown Royal bag and left at the County Attorney’s Office.
The other three were removed before they, too, could be stolen, and the existing ones are on display at county offices and the library, Byrnes said.
She said she was disappointed to learn about the grate since it, too, was meant to benefit the entire community.
For more information about the Forest Board, contact Board President Bruce Schlaebitz at 541-290-4788.